tv Politics and Public Policy Today CSPAN October 19, 2017 2:34am-3:01am EDT
williams jr. talks about his work to help paralyzed vets. from a is what i see policy perspective, from an advocates perspective. you have to empathize. that's what it will make it the ideal provider for veterans who have gone to combat and sacrifice. >> sunday night at 8:00 eastern. c-span cities tour is in portland, maine this weekend. join us as we explore the literary scene and history of this city with the help of spectrum cable partners. saturday at noon eastern on book tv, colin what are talks about the $700 million lobster industry in his book "tehe lobster coast." industry is aster
sustainable fishery, but this came out of a terrible tragedy. this is a hard, learned experience. of the conservation measures were in place at the end of the 19th century. >> we will visit the childhood home of henry wadsworth longfellow. was alive ande he writing probably the most famous english writer in the world if not the most famous person in the world. today he is probably best remembered for "paul revere's part of our american lexicon and american memory. c-span.. eastern on maine at noon
eastern. 2:00 p.m.. at working with our affiliates and visiting cities across the country. testified before the senate judiciary committee today, attorney general jeff sessions defended president trump decision to fire james comey and to roll back obama administration criminal justice reforms. sessions sat, jeff on the judiciary committee. this is a five-hour hearing.
[gavel pounding] [indiscernible] >> attorney general sessions, welcome. for all the people in the audience, we welcome you as well. i thank general sessions were being here that attorney general sessions were being here for the oversight hearing. his is an opportunity for congress to investigate and question the policies and actions of any executive branch.
it is an opportunity for the executive branch to take responsibility for any of those policies and actions, and an opportunity for congress to defend its constitutional powers and check any abuses by an overreaching executive branch, and it has been that way for 230 years. some have complained that we have not had an oversight hearing with this attorney general earlier. my reason for deferring was that the attorney general should have his team in place before appearing before us.
certainly, attorney general holder and attorney general lynch did have their respective teams well in place by the time they appeared here as you are now here. the other side has been blocking executive nomination for the past 10 months, significantly delaying the department of justice's ability to get management in place and things in order. but we are here now, and ready to do our oversight. the department of justice is an incredibly important branch, part of the executive branch, enforcing laws and ensuring public safety against foreign and domestic threats among a lot of other responsibilities. our citizens look to the department of justice to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime. we rely on the department to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior, and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice. the department currently faces many difficult issues. our country is challenged with the over growing threat of foreign or homegrown terrorism. we have seen terrorist incidents
evolving around the world, especially impacting europe. in the u.k. alone, there have been at least half a dozen major terrorist incidents in the past nine months, and i have a couple paragraphs here of other things going on, both in europe and the united states that, to save time, i am going to skip over. but there has been a lot of people killed and terrorist attacks in the western world are something we ought to be very concerned about. they are real, and we must protect our country by lawful means. congress has tried to do so by providing lawful authorities such as section 72 of the fisa amendments act. congress passed the legislation, and president bush signed it into law, 2008.
after more debate and president obama's support, congress reauthorize the law in 2012, unchanged. the law is again up for reauthorization. section 702 is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. it is up to congress to reauthorize this important national security tool while preserving privacy and civil liberties, and increasing transparency for the american public. general sessions, i am interested in hearing your thoughts on that important legislation. in september, the fbi released its annual crime data. for the second euro, violent row, violentr in a crime increased across the united states. homicide, 8.6% increases, and other cities have seen massive increases in homicide. baltimore is on pace to top the number of homicides in new york city, even though the population
is almost 8 million less, and this country continues to be mired in a national epidemic of overdose deaths and abuse of opioid drugs. over 47,000 people died in 2014. 50,000 died, 2015. last year, 64,000 people. now that we have a new administration, i want to know what the department of justice is doing to reduce violent crime, to help ensure that the citizens around the country are safe. i also want to find out what the department is doing to combat opioid crisis, and we all care deeply about this issue. the abuse of prescription painkillers, heroin, synthetic opioids, fentanyl, as an example, artist ryan lives in communities across iowa and the
example, are destroying lives in communities across iowa and the nation as a whole. i know that it is a national issue. i cosponsored the copperheads of addiction and recovery act, known as cara. it passed through this committee, signed into law last year. cara addresses the opioid crisis in a comprehensive way while also raising over $900 million over five years for recovery. reports suggest that congress gave a pastor made -- gave a past two big drug companies by enacting the "ensuring patient access and effective drug
enforcement act." doj and dea, just last year, signed off on this bill. now former dea employees are railing against the law, pointing fingers at lawmakers. if dea had problems with this bill, they were the ones that had the expertise to warn congress, and they did not. the obama administration provided light which were the bill and signed it into law. i am planning on having an oversight hearing that will your department, general sessions, to see what, if anything, needs changing. october 1, this country suffered through the deadliest mass shooting, and i do not need to go through the history of that, but it will be in my printed statement. aft has recently brief the judiciary staff on the addition two guns called bump stocks. we will be looking more at that issue.
in september, the president announced a wind down of the deferred action against childhood arrivals program, daca, for short. a six-month extension. my office received preliminary data showing 2021 individuals that had daca status terminated for criminal and gang activity. we want to know who these criminals are, what kinds of crimes they are committing, and with it -- if they are with any gangs. secondly, general sessions, you announced earlier this year doj's recommitment to criminal investigation enforcement. 50 more immigration judges were supposed to be added to the bench this year, 75 more next year.
we need to know what steps doj has taken and what still needs to be done to reduce this immigration court backlog. there is another issue i want to address that came up in the news just yesterday. in june 2015, at the beginning of last week, i wrote to the justice department -- about the acquisition of the radio -- in the last administration. that resulted in a holding of 20% of america's uranium mining capacity. it turns out that during the transaction, the justice department had ongoing criminal investigation for bribery, extortion, money laundering into officials for the company making the purchase. ricin is involved in the conspiracy, and reported as -- coursing with high power government officials, some connected to vladimir putin. while this was going on, the clinton foundation was receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars.
-- this is one of the agencies that comes up to the takeover. somehow, despite all this, the previous administration approved the transaction. in my letter, i asked the agencies involved in approving the transaction if they were aware of the criminal probe, and the intelligence operation examining the activity. this committee has an obligation to get to the bottom of this issue. the committee is also waiting for a response to 11 oversight letters sent to the justice department on matters on which the occur need general is not accused. there are more letters that have not been answered. the letters date back to january 2016. i expect these letters will be answered, including, most importantly, ones from the previous administration. i also want to ask you about the firing of former fbi director james comey. it was an important moment for the department of justice and for this country.
the american people have a right to know why he was fired, especially in the middle of so many high-profile issues going on, including the investigation into russian interference in the 2016 election. thank you, general sessions, for being here, and for your continuous service to the country. senator feinstein? senator feinstein: i do, mr. chairman. good morning, mr. attorney general. this is the first time you have appeared before this committee, and i want to say welcome. as a former member, you know well the oversight authority that we hold. as i mentioned that your confirmation hearing, i have a deep belief in the independence of the attorney general. although we have had attorney general to view their job as serving the president and as an
extension of the white house, i do not believe that is the job of the attorney general. for the attorney general, his master is the people and the law. importantly, his job is to enforce federal law fairly and equally for all americans. this is why i was surprised that in april, you declared that the justice department "is in a new area. this is the trump era." i want for a moment to explore with a few issues what you mean by that. let me begin with voting rights. during your confirmation hearing, you testified, and i quote "the aggressive enforcement of laws to ensure \enforcement of laws to ensure access to the ballot for every eligible voter, without hindrance or discrimination." that would be a "special priority." i was pleased future that. but this year, the justice department discarded its long-standing position on a texas voter id law.
for nearly six years, the department of justice had argued that the texas law was unconstitutional. it intended to discriminate against minority voters. based on evidence, the voter id laws "have a disproportionate effect on minorities." despite this, just two weeks after you were confirmed, the department dropped its opposition to the texas law. the department also changed its position on another key voting rights case. this one involved ohio's purge of voters. under ohio's procedure, voters who had not cast a ballot in six years and failed to return a postcard were removed from state voting rolls. this process reportedly resulted in the removal of 40,000 voters in one county alone, cuyahoga county, which covers cleveland and its surrounding suburbs.
civil rights organizations challenged the process, arguing that the national voter registration act forbids the state from removing individuals for failing to vote. in july 2016, the justice department told the court it opposed ohio's purge, and in september 2016, the sixth circuit agreed that ohio's process for removing voters from its roles was unconstitutional. this ruling cleared the way for thousands of ohioans to cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. however, that decision is being appealed to the supreme court, and now the department of justice is taking the side of removing voters from the rolls, even though the last election clearly demonstrated how this
policy harms eligible voters. i would now like to turn to lgbt rights. throughout my career, i have worked to ensure lgbt americans have equal rights and protections under the law. it is important to me that we preserve these protections. this committee should not tolerate efforts to undermine the progress that has been made. at your confirmation hearing, you testified, and i quote "we must continue to move forward and never back. i will ensure the statutes protecting the lgbt communities civil rights and their safety are fully enforced." so i was very pleased to learn that the department is sending a top hate crimes lawyer to iowa to assist with prosecution of the case of a transgender teenager murdered last year. according to the times, this
decision was personally initiated by you. however, i was also surprised and concerned to learn that this summer, the justice department switched its position on title vii, and is now arguing that the law does not protect lgbt workers. on october 5, just two weeks ago, you issued a memorandum to all u.s. attorneys and agency heads, instructing them that their department must now take the position that title vii does not protect transgender employees in all cases. in other words, it appears that your department is urging the courts to allow employers to discriminate against all lgbt workers across the country. i hope you will clear that up in your testimony. there are other controversial policies being implemented at justice. presidents travel ban, for
example. multiple federal courts found the muslim ban unconstitutional, including another court in hawaii just yesterday. these travel ban efforts are an affront to our nations commitment destination's commitment to religious liberty, yet the justice department staunchly defends the ban. on daca, you recommended in september that the program be terminated. i think we believe these young people have placed their trust in the government, they have come out of the shadows, they have provided all of their information to authorities. they seek the opportunity to get right with the law, and i think
most of us believe these dreamers embody the american spirit and have made positive contributions to the country, so we should stand by them. finally, we will also wants to hear about the firing of fbi director james comey. president trump initially said he fired director call me based on your recommendation and that of deputy attorney general rod rosenstein. within days, however, the president admitted to lester holt on nbc news that he actually fired comey because of "the russia thing." it has also been reported that the day before he fired director comey, president trump summoned his top advisers and told them that he had prepared a termination letter. it is important, i believe, to understand what role you had in this process, including conversations with the president
and others in the white house. last week, the democratic members of this committee sent a letter, making it clear we would be asking about director comey's firing at this hearing. we expected answers, or the assertion of a valid claim of executive privilege by the president. in conclusion, attorney general, your department as you know is incredibly important, and you are as well. our country depends on a department that is independent, committed to protecting the rights and freedoms of all americans, not just some. so we look forward to hearing from you on these and other important issues. i thank you, mr. chairman. >> general sessions, i would like to swear you at this point. do you affirm that the testimony you are about to give before the committee will be the truth, the
whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so hope you god? a.g. sessions: i do. chairman grassley: before you speak, we have a long session ahead of us, probably with you. there will be a lot of questions. since we did not get a copy of your opening remarks, i was wondering if it would be possible for you to submit your longer remarks and maybe summarize so we can get to questions sooner? i will defer to you, but that is my request, but whatever time you need, take it. a.g. sessions: thank you, mr. chairman. i appreciate the opportunity to be with all of you. ranking member on and distinguished members of the committee, former colleagues and friends, this is the honor of a lifetime. for me to serve as attorney general of the united states of